It may seem trite to say, but morality is in our brains. A recent experiment at MIT has shown rather conclusively that a certain area of the brain is instrumental in making moral judgments. When electrical stimulation was used to disrupt the functioning of this region, subjects had significant difficulty determining the moral value of actions where harm was intended but not done, such as attempted poisoning.
In truth, we’ve known for some time that morality and the brain are intrinsically linked. Plenty of people with brain damage have had wholesale changes to their sense of right and wrong, and many have become downright amoral. But this study has given us more specific information on exactly which parts of the brain are involved in specific kinds of moral judgments.
This line on inquiry highlights the growing mountain of evidence against the concept of a “soul.” We know that “consciousness” is dependent on the brain. We now have evidence that there is no magical “moral soul” that somehow transcends the brain. We have strong evidence that personality type is largely genetic. What is left for the soul to do?
It’s not an insignificant question. If personality, morality, perception, and cognition are all functions of the brain, it becomes difficult to talk of the importance of the soul. Particularly when we discuss “salvation” or “eternal life,” we run into some problems. If the soul doesn’t contain any of our personality, how can we speak meaningfully about “our soul” continuing on after death?
Of course, the theist can always retreat to the position that the soul magically “captures” our personality at the exact moment of our death. And as always, there’s not really much we can say to that. How does one refute the claim that something exists which does not impact the physical universe in any way, and only has an impact in a magical world which also has no impact on our world at all?
For reasonable thinking people, there shouldn’t be any need to refute the claim, or even consider it seriously. That’s the beauty of science. As we learn more and more about the science of being human, the claims of religion become less and less meaningful, to the point that there’s no sense in taking any of them seriously.